The two colliding views of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector and the DfE were aired on the same platform this week at the 2016 FASNA Autumn Conference in central London.
In his speech, Minister of State, Nick Gibb, endorsed autonomous schools in a strong accountability framework as the government's key tools for improved education outcomes and reiterated the government's aspiration for all schools to become academies over time. He argued that the academy system enables successful schools to consolidate success and spread excellence across the country.
The Minister is not alone in his lack of concern for the absence of real evidence to back up this claim other than anecdotal examples. These stories are always inspiring and for that reason they are worth sharing, but they still do not amount to evidence. Nor is there any real evidence to indicate that academisation is the wrong way forward, it's just that there isn't enough evidence of any sort yet. There are of course statistics which are accurate and can be compelling on both sides of this and any argument but in reality we know so little about what works.
While in Sir Michael Wilshaw’s speech he made clear that schools are much improved and that greater autonomy and greater accountability is making a significant difference to standards, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector was also very clear that we still have a "mediocre education system" albeit with some notable exceptions. Sir Michael was particularly vocal about the static attainment gap between FSM and non-FSM secondary students over the last 10 years (still at 28%); and about the increasing secondary attainment divide between the North and Midlands, and the South.
The two also clashed over selective education. Nick Gibb was promoting the government’s selective education agenda laid out in the Green Paper, while Sir Michael took the opportunity to again denounce the grammar school system describing the plan as a "monumental mistake" and indulging his own vision of good schooling as a "grammar school ethos" which celebrates the importance of tradition, ritual and formality. His thrust was crucially that the best global education systems don't focus on the top 20%, but rather on the attainment of the poorest performing children.
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